Monday, 22 May 2017

Ch 9. Crazy People

As usual, there is adult language ahead, and this is a first draft, so expect some errors. I couldn't find a good place to break this chapter into more manageable chunks, so I decided to post the whole shebang.

Feel free to comment below, and thanks for reading!

“This is my only rain jacket!” said Dimitri, glaring at the jagged piece of metal in his shoulder.

He gripped the rod, and without ceremony, yanked it free. For the next twenty seconds what followed was an exhaustive treatise on the many uses of the word, “fuck.”

When he was finished, Dimitri held up the sheared off length of metal in front of Stirling’s nose. “Do you have any idea how much that just cost?”

Cost? What the hell was that supposed to mean? Stirling looked closer at the protruding bit of metal to see if he could gain any insight there. He didn’t. It was galvanised threaded rod, maybe a centimetre thick, it’s tip coated in blood for a good ten centimetres. Beyond that, it was a regular piece of metal he wouldn’t think twice about if he saw it on the side of the road. He looked back up at Dimitri. “Doesn’t that hurt?”

Dimitri looked at him flatly for a beat. “Well, duh.

Dimitri unbuckled himself from his seatbelt and popped the hood release under the dash before stepping out of the wrecked car. He stumbled over the half-concealed door that was sticking out from, under the car and gave it a spiteful kick.

Stirling grabbed his box of books and followed him outside. The little car was an absolute mess. The front bumper and driver’s door were simply missing, the back end had been smashed on all three sides, and three long rents of torn metal ran from where the driver side door used to be all the way to the demolished rear bumper.

Dimitri didn’t pause to be impressed at the state of the car, instead, he started to run his fingers under the edge of the hood looking for the release.

“I think it’s going to need more than an oil change to get back one the road,” said Stirling.

“A comedian, huh?”

Dimitri wrenched hard on the hood a few times before if sprung free of the twisted frame. His shoulder didn’t seem to be giving him any problems. Maybe Stirling was just a pansy, but he didn’t think he’d be taking the injury as well as Dimitri was.

“Hold this,” said Dimitri, waving his phone in Stirling's direction. Stirling put his box down and directed the little light on the back of the phone at the engine. Dimitri took an object out of his pocket that looked like a thin metal pencil and leant over the hot radiator.  He gingerly reached an arm into the metal and rubber guts of the car with the stylus. Stirling couldn’t see what he was doing, but he heard the distinct sound of metal scratching on metal.

Whatever he needed to do didn’t take long, because a few seconds later Dimitri straightened and let the hood fall back into place.

“Come on, we need to go. A trip over the bridge isn’t going to slow Rag and Bone down for long. We need to get gone.”

Dimitri led him away from the lights of Hastings and into a darkened residential neighbourhood. The dripping branches of old trees overhung the streets making them into tunnels. As they walked, Stirling noticed that Dimitri was paying close attention to the cars parked on the road.

“So Rag and Bone, who are they? A failed nineties porn act or something?”

“That’s funny. I need to remember that one.” Dimitri kept walking and eyeing the cars they passed.

“Seriously, who are they?”

Dimitri turned his head to look at him in disbelief. “Really? You’re joking, right?”

Stirling shrugged and shook his head.

“You’re serious?”

“I am serious.”

 “So, what are you, some kind of shut-in? I thought everyone knew about Madame Rag and Mister Bone. The Two Stations Massacre? The Bloody Snatchers? The Fitzgerald Assassination? None of this ringing a bell?”

“Nope, you got me there.”

A look of suspicion began to creep onto Dimitri’s face. “Wait a second, what exactly did Rag want with you at that restaurant?”

“She wanted to make me an offer I had to refuse.”

“What kind of offer?”

“The usual, the money, the power, the women,” he finished the last few words a bit wistfully.

“Uh huh. And what did she want in return for all that?

Stirling looked at him. Dimitri was fishing, and Stirling thought—hoped he knew what he was fishing for. “She wanted me for my enormous unit, of course” he said.

At the words, he let his mental barriers relax just a fraction. A faint ripple of cold expanded away from him like a skim of ice forming in still water.

Dimitri flinched like someone had sneaked up to him in a dark alley and whispered, “you sure have a purdy mouth,” directly into his ear.

“Fuck! Was that you?!”

“Well, I don’t like to toot my own horn, but yeah.”

“At least you’re not a straight. I thought I might have grabbed the wrong guy, you not knowing about Rag and Bone.”

“That was fucking creepy, by the way. Do not do that around me again. Dimitri chafed his forearms and gave him a dark look.

Dimitri began to drift across the street to where a newer model Jeep SUV was parked. After a quick once over, he pulled his phone from his pocket and without dialling, put the glowing screen to his ear.
“How does this one look?”

“Huh?” asked Stirling, eloquently.

A moment later, the Jeep’s lights flashed, the doors unlocked, and the engine started.

“Wasn't talking to you. Let’s go,” said Dimitri, putting words to action and climbing into the driver’s seat.

Stirling eyed the empty street and walked quickly to his door. He hoisted himself and his office box of notebooks into the passenger seat and buckled himself in a bit more quickly than he might have done normally.

Dimitri pulled away from the curb and accelerated smoothly down the rain-slick street.

“How did you do that? That was amazing,” said Stirling.

“It’s my knack, I’m a technomancer. What’s yours by the way? I’ve never felt a trick like that one you threw out in the street.”

“My what now?”

“Your knack, what’s your knack?”

“That’s what I thought you said. What do you mean when you say, ‘knack?’”

“Are you fucking with me?!”

“Not fucking with you. Also, did you know you say ‘fuck’ a lot?”

“You’re about to hear it a lot more if you don’t start answering my fucking questions!”

“Fine, you let me know what a knack is, and maybe I can give you an answer.”

“You know, your knack, what’s in your wheelhouse? What’s the voodoo that you do best?”

Stirling nodded at him, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Do not fuck with me!”

“I’ve already told you, I’m not fucking with you. What is this? Some kind of homoerotic reverse psychology?”


“Listen to me,” said Stirling, pointing back the way they had come. “That psycho bitch in the Cadillac is only the second person I ever met who knew about magic, and the first one refused to tell me shit.”

“Bullshit. Someone had to teach you.”

“I taught me.”

“Nobody just teaches themselves.”

“How come?”

“Because only crazy people believe in magic,” said Dimitri.

“Who’s fucking with who now?”

“I’m serious. You have to be crazy to believe in magic.”

“Yeah, well, that little Honda shouldn’t have been able to do a hundred and ninety down the highway either. Don’t try and tell me you don’t do magic.”

“Yeah, so?”

“So, are you crazy then?”

“No, but I’m not claiming I taught myself either. Magic isn’t something people should be able to do.”
“I’ve got some pretty damn compelling evidence against that statement.”

“You’re not getting it,” said Dimitri.“Look, I’ll give an example. What happens when you tell a stone to burn?”

“Uh, nothing. Stones aren’t known for being all that flammable.”

“Exactly. You can tell a stone to burn as many times as you want, but it’ll never do anything but sit there and be a stone. A cold, boring-ass stone. That’s reality. Reality is always there, and it’s always turned on.”

“Okay, I’m with you  so far.”

“Magic is not only about making the stone burst into flames, or fly, or whatever, it’s about absolutely believing that you live in a world where that stone should do those things. You can’t do magic without the absolutely uncluttered faith that it’ll work.”

“So, ponder this,” Dimitri went on, turning the wheel and smoothly accelerating back onto Hastings. “What are the chances that you’re that one rare person out of all the tens of thousands who has the inborn ability to do magic. Then, out of that tiny number, you also happen to believe that the laws of the universe just don’t apply to you. In your world, stones should burn, cats should fly, in short, it’s the world of a crazy person. That belief is what it would take to teach yourself magic.”

“So how did you learn then?”

“Somebody showed me. Seeing is believing. Now, would you like to change your story?”

“No, but I have a question.”

“Okay, shoot.”

“Well, if magic is so difficult to learn, how come people can do magic at all?”

“Simple,” said Dimitri, “people panic, they get amazingly pissed, or sometimes they just flip out.”
“Well gosh, that clears everything up.”

“Just listen,” said Dimitri. “When people panic, their brain stops working.” He took his hands off the wheel to make a head exploding gesture. “It’s basic biology, fight or flight. People losing their shit is actually the main reason most people throw their first trick. War zones, natural disasters, places like those are where you’ll find lots of new talent.”

“And PTSD.”

“That too. When the shit hits the fan, the need to keep breathing overrules everything, including a rational understanding how the world should work. It’s why you see so many non-religious people suddenly get godly in a crisis. Praying never worked before, but when you’re grasping at straws what have you got to lose?”

“But back to what I was talking about, so there you are, a tornado bearing down on your double-wide and you just happen to be one of the rare people that have some kind of magical ability. Cows are flying through the air like migrating geese, you freak, and poof! spontaneous magic. The tornado passes, and despite everyone else being sent on a one-way trip to the Great Beyond, you’re somehow still alive”

“People will call it a fluke, or maybe a miracle depending on their religious convictions. What they won’t do is claim it was magic, because only people who are nuts believe in magic.” He eyed Stirling significantly.

“So, where’s the problem? People do magic, I already know that. I do magic. Are you arguing or agreeing with me?”

“The problem is, is that’s panic magic. It’s completely uncontrolled and spontaneous. You never know what’s going to happen with panic magic. There’s huge difference between someone freaking out and deflecting bullets, and throwing a trick on purpose. That shit takes some serious skill and dedication.”

“To do real magic you need three things; The ability, the skill to shape a trick, and the belief that it’ll work. They call it the Magic Triangle. Putting all three of those things together without a teacher just doesn’t happen.”

“Sure, that all sounds good,” said Stirling, “but it’s the chicken and the egg argument. Somebody had to figure it out for themselves. If they did, why not me? You can’t have anyone to teach you if nobody knows, and if nobody figured it out to begin with, there’s no magic, and I think we both know that’s bullshit.”

“Alright, fine, I don’t know how the very first person to do controlled magic learned. What I do know, is that without the skill, the faith, and the knowledge, you get squat. If you’re claiming you taught yourself magic, you at least need to start with the faith, and that kind of belief doesn’t happen unless you’ve seen something to make you believe in magic, or unless you’re batshit, barking, crazy.”

“Oh, I’ve seen some arcane shenanigans. I’ve seen shit that you wouldn’t believe.”

“See, I knew it had to be something. Fess up, who was it?”

“It wasn’t a who, and it’s a bit creepy.”

“Half of all magic is creepy. If you cut out the tricks that need bodily fluids to work, you’d be cutting my list in half. Seriously, the ability to do magic should come with an economy-sized roll of paper towels and a jug of brain bleach. I’ve been doing this for years, I can take it. Lay it on me.”

“I can tell when people are going to die.”

Dimitri was quiet for a moment. He poked at the radio until a station he liked came on, before finally saying, “You’re right, that’s creepy.”

The PNE fairgrounds scrolled past on their right, the wooden roller coaster and rides were silhouetted against the light from North Vancouver. Stirling decided that if he was going to tell some of it, he might as well go all in.

“And you know when I did that thing you didn’t like? The thing you asked me not to do again?”
“Yeah, what about it?”

“I do that. All the time.”

Dimitri looked over at him. “You’re not doing it now.”

“No, right now I’m concentrating on not doing it. It’s like trying to stop pee in mid-stream. I can do it, but when I stop concentrating wham! Magic pee all over the place.”

“Wow, that was needlessly graphic. I’m afraid to ask, but anything else you need to tell me?”

“Well, I can see ghosts, but I bet a lot of people can.”

“No, they can't.”

“Really? Even people who do magic?”

“Yeah, even them. Especially them,” he added darkly. “Anything else?”

“Well, maybe.”

“What is it?”

“Ghosts explode when I touch them. Also, they all hate me.”

“Ghosts hate you.”

“Ever since the time I blew one of them up by accident.”

“You blow up ghosts by accident,” Dimitri said, deadpan. “This keeps getting better.”

“I went to shake his hand and bam! no more ghost. Ever since then, they swear at me, flip me off, try and distract me when I’m crossing the street, that kind of thing.”

They pulled to a stop at a red light and Dimitri began softly banging his head against the steering wheel.

“You alright?”

“No, I’m about as far from alright as I can be right now.”

“Want to talk about it?”

“Not really.”

“It might help.”

“You might not know this since we just met and all, but I’m not really a ‘talk it out’ kind of guy. Just shut up for a minute, I need to think about this.”

The light turned green and they continued down Hastings. Dimitri drummed on the steering wheel while he glared out into the rainy night before violently shaking the wheel and shouting, “That bitch!”

“What bitch?” asked Stirling.

“Aleph. She set me up!”

“Who’s Aleph?”

“One of the lesser deities that hangs around here."

“A deity? Really? Like a goddess?”

“That’s what a deity is. This one has set herself up as a kind of go-between for the straights and the freaks like us. Thinks it's her job to keep us all in line.”

“Is it?”

“Nobody asked her to, but yeah, maybe,” he said, starting to calm down a bit. “I’ve heard she works for the Duke’s Own.”

“The who?”

“The magic police.”

A suspicion began to form in Stirling’s mind.

“Ever since I found my name on Rag and Bone’s shopping list of people to grab, I’ve been maintaining a low profile. Aleph heard I was missing and tracked me down last night in Richmond. She gave me your name to add to my list, said those two were after you as well.”

“This Aleph? Hot, long dark hair, wears sunglasses at night like Corey Heart?”

“You’ve met her?”

“Remember I told you I met someone who wouldn’t tell me anything about magic?”

“I knew it! That manipulative, sneaky, asshole. She led me by the nose right to you!”

“So? What’s wrong with that?”

“There aren’t many laws in the community, but the ones we have, you don’t break if you know what’s good for you. One of the big ones is that if you discover someone who can do magic you bring them from the cold in to show them the ropes. It’s called being a sponsor.”

“How come she isn’t my sponsor then? Nothing against you, man, but if I had a choice of a hot goddess and you, it’s going to be the hot goddess every time.”

“The rules are a bit different when it comes to god-like beings, they have to be careful about interacting with us mere mortals. If they find someone, they’re supposed to use proxies. Guess who just got tricked into becoming hers?”

“Well, alright you got tricked, but I’m not a bad guy. Just show me what buttons not to press, and if you want I’ll be out of your hair in no time.”

“You still don’t get it.” Dimitri sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. “People who use magic come in a bunch of different flavours. We call them knacks. A knack is the magic that they’re naturally most talented at. The main categories for these knacks are: diviners, elementalists, mystics, enchanters, alchemists and necromancers.”

Stirling counted them off on his fingers as Dimitri listed them. “Demean?”


“When you list them like that it makes an acronym that spells ‘Demean.’"

“Thank god you told me that! Can you focus, please? Out of that whole list of knacks I just gave you, which knack sounds like it might stick to you?”

“So I’m a necromancer?”

“Bingo! And for a follow-up question, guess which knack comes with a bad reputation and a not-quite-secret bounty in the head of anyone claiming to be one?”

“I’m going to go with mystics. They sound shifty as balls in boxers if you ask me.”

“You’d be wrong,” said Dimitri, scowling. “On both counts.”

They slowed and stopped for another red light. A homeless man slowly walked the street divider next to them. He held up a damp cardboard sign asking for change in black marker.

“So, here’s me,” Dimitri continued, his voice sounding a bit unhinged. “On one hand I’ve got a goddess who works for the magic police tricking me into becoming legally responsible for a fucking necromancer. On the other, I’ve got a pair of immortal assassins who have already tried to recruit you, have a reputation for a high body count, and who have my name on their shit-list. Fuck. My life.”

“It could be worse.”


The panhandler who’d been slowly walking past suddenly launched himself at Dimitri’s window. He hit the glass with an almighty smack, rocking the SUV on its wheels. He howled at them wordlessly through the tempered glass, and the ghost that had been trailing unseen behind him howled with him.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Ch 8 Part 2 Caution, Speed Bumps Ahead

As usual, there is adult language ahead, and this is a first draft, so expect some errors.

Feel free to comment below.  Hope you enjoy the second part of chapter 8!

Dimitri had Indian features and his dark complexion contrasted with the whites of his eyes and teeth in the dim light. His face was long and thin with a shock of dark hair that looked like it hadn’t been combed for days.

Dimitri rubbed at the blood on the side of his face where he’d been raked by the woman and wiped it off on the front of his jacket. “Crazy bitch,” he said over the roar of the wind coming in through his broken window.

Dimitri’s eyes flicked up to the rear-view mirror and he swore. Stirling twisted in his seat, his curiously overcoming the waves of nauseating pain that were radiating up into his abdomen.
A car was running up the shoulder of the road and rapidly closing the distance between them. He couldn’t see any detail behind the glare of the headlights, but it didn’t take a genius to guess that it was the Cadillac he’d seen in the parking lot.

Dimitri shifted down into third and jammed his foot on the gas, the little car picked up speed and Dimitri cut hard across into the left lane. Cars wove crazily as they swerved to avoid them.

Stirling saw a half-grin on Dimitri’s face and slid his box of notebooks between his feet.

The wind coming through the shattered driver’s side window came in at hurricane force as Dimitri shifted into fourth, the needle on the speedometer rising past the hundred kilometre mark. Dimitri’s knuckles were white on the steering wheel as the car behind them continued to gain.

Stirling didn’t know how this Dimitri was planning on outrunning the blonde woman. Madame Rag was in a car that had been built to deliver whatever the driver wanted, whether it be a top of the line sound system or the horsepower to run down the peasants when they got uppity. Airbags aside, when she caught them, the sheer power and weight of metal of the Caddy would flatten them like a slug under a brick.

The eight-lane intersection of Lougheed Highway and Boundary Road was rapidly approaching. Dimitri’s eyes constantly flicked from the road ahead to his mirrors. Stirling cast a look in his own mirror in time to see the blunt grill of Rag’s car disappear under the hatchback window behind them. They were out of time, Stirling grabbed for the passenger handle bolted to the ceiling and braced for impact. It didn’t come.

Dimitri jammed the wheel hard over to the right, somehow managing to maintain control on the wet road as they cut across the inside two lanes of traffic and sped right onto Boundary. Stirling could hear him cackling as they came centimetres away from death.

The crunch of metal on metal was startlingly close as Madame Rag’s pursuing Cadillac swerved after them, forcing an old Dodge Neon onto the shoulder and down a steep ditch.

If Dimitri thought he could pull off the move and get away unscathed, the next few moments proved him wrong. In an effort to avoid a white pickup truck in the turning lane, he’d had taken the corner too wide. As they turned onto Boundary Road, the front wheel clipped the centre median and launched the car’s left front end into the air. Stirling felt the impact in his chest as his belt tightened around his chest and the world tilted around him.

For a heart-stopping second, they were on two wheels. Stirling looked on, not even having time to be properly afraid as the wet road whizzed past outside his window like the Devil’s own personal bench grinder. Time slowed as the car teetered before it finally righted itself and slammed back onto the median. Dimitri gave a whoop and swerved off the barrier. He downshifted into third and the little car gamely sped away with all the haste its four-cylinder engine could muster.

Rag hadn’t been able to turn as tightly as the little Honda because as Stirling turned to Dimitri, he caught sight of the familiar blue Cadillac dodging in the lanes of oncoming traffic to the left of them. The same median that had nearly launched them into oblivion seconds before, now protected them, a barrier between them and their pursuer.

The sound of Caddy’s engine roared through Dimitri’s broken window, and Stirling watched in disbelief as it accelerated through oncoming traffic, playing chicken as it went, and, for the most part, winning.

The median ahead thinned to a three-foot strip and the Caddilac took advantage by steered sharply to the right and up onto the barrier. The big car hit with an ear-splitting bang and lurched over with the shriek of tires and a shower of sparks. Horns blared in protest as Madame Rag reoriented herself in the lane behind them and gave chase.

Dimitri began a steady mantra of swear words as Madame Rag resumed her dogged pursuit. They screamed through traffic, their small size allowing them to slip through tight spots much easier time than Rag’s whale of a car. Rag countered by using her car as a battering ram, nudging past vehicles, or simply ramming into those too slow to get out of her way.

Dimitri jacked the wheel over hard left, pulled the e-brake and skidded onto First Avenue and up the on-ramp to the Trans-Canada Highway, The Cadillac devoured the pavement not fifty meters behind them.

“What the fuck are you doing!?” Stirling yelled over the rush of the wind, “she’ll destroy us on a straightaway!”

Dimitri eyed him sideways and smiled a manic grin showing a row of gleaming white teeth. Sure enough, the slim lead they’d scraped together on Boundary began rapidly narrowing as Madame Rag’s dented Cadillac charged onto the highway after them. The blunt, grinning, grill grew close in the mirrors. Dimitri wove around slower cars, using all three lanes to evade the pursuing Caddy, but it was a losing proposition. Rag wouldn’t be shaken. She had speed and acceleration on her side.

Ahead, two cars in the slow and HOV lanes were moving at roughly the same speed. Dimitri was forced to stop weaving for critical seconds to thread the needle between them. He put his foot down hard on the gas, but the little car was already giving all it had. The Cadillac’s bumper hit them hard as they passed between the two cars. Stirling’s head bounced off his headrest and his seatbelt locked tight around his chest. Dimitri cleared the two cars and swerved left to avoid the next hit, cutting off the car in the HOV lane as he did so.

The blue car began pulling along side. If she was able to nudge their back wheel, she could put them into a spin, and that would be it. At the speed they were going, they wouldn’t need body bags, they’d need a warehouse palette of sandwich bags.

Dimitri yelled something unintelligible over the roaring wind, and Stirling experienced a sudden moment of vertigo. The little car suddenly screamed with new power and they shot ahead. Stirling was slammed back in his seat, this time not from the impact of Madame Rag’s Cadillac, but from the acceleration. Dimitri whooped in excitement as the car screamed ahead.

Stirling wasn’t exactly sure what was happening, but he happily joined in Dimitri’s celebration by letting loose with a whoop of his own. He rolled down his window and waved a middle finger at the car receding behind them. For the first time since getting in the car, Stirling felt that they might actually have a chance to shake Madame Rag.

The little subcompact maintained the pace for nearly ten seconds, the gap between them rapidly widening, when without warning the engine began to miss and stutter. White steam filled the window in the hatch behind them. Their acceleration dropped off and Stirling stared at the descending needle on the gauge like a man trapped on a sinking submarine.

“Shit!” Dimitri swore, pounding on the steering wheel. The car surged and bucked as they continued down the highway. Stirling checked behind them. Past the cloud of steam, the unmistakable headlights of Madame Rag’s battered Cadillac were approaching fast. Their speed quickly dropped below a hundred, the engine shuddering under the hood. At this speed, the Cadillac wouldn’t ram them, it would flatten them like a steamroller.

Dimitri shifted down, his eyes flicking between the road ahead and the rear-view mirror.

“Faster! Must go faster!” shouted Stirling, pointing at the onrushing car behind them.

The off-ramp to Hastings Street was sliding past and nearly behind them when Dimitri yanked on the emergency brake and swerved right at the last moment. The Cadillac scored a glancing blow on their bumper pushing them perilously close to the metal divider that separated the offramp from the highway. The already mangled driver’s door scraped past the corrugated metal divider, nearly ripping it off as they shuddered past. Dimitri screamed as the barrier loomed in his broken window and tortured metal screamed less than a foot away from his shoulder.

The rear end of the car impacted the steel post and rebounded away, throwing them both around like the crew of the original Star Trek. Air bags deployed explosively from above the driver-side windows with a noise like the paper bag of the gods being popped.

Defying all of Stirling’s expectations, Dimitri somehow avoided oncoming traffic and the car swerved drunkenly onto the off-ramp. The driver’s door dangled by only a shred of metal and threw up a shower of sparks as they made their escape.

The Cadillac tried to follow but Dimitri’s timing had been perfect. Sparks flew off the Caddy’s door as Madame Rag swerved back onto the highway, the metal divider defeating her attempts to pursue them. She continued down the highway propelled by the weight of cars coming up behind her. There wouldn’t be an opportunity for her to turn the car around again until she crossed the Second Narrows Bridge into North Van.

Dimitri limped the little car up the long off-ramp and turned right onto Hastings, steam pluming out of the exhaust pipe. He parked in the lot of a McDonald's and mercifully silenced the terminally sputtering engine.

They both took in a deep breath in the sudden silence and Dimitri turned to look at Stirling. He held out his hand.

“It’s Stirling, right?”

Stirling didn’t shake his hand, he was too busy looking at the sheared-off threaded rod from a highway divider sticking out of Dimitri’s left shoulder.

Stirling pointed at the protruding bit of metal and, nonplussed, Dimitri turned to look to where he was pointing. He gave the length of metal an experimental poke. It didn’t budge.


Saturday, 13 May 2017

Ch 8. Caution, Speed Bumps Ahead.

A bit late this week, but there were a few issues with this chunk that I wanted to fix before I posted.

As usual, there is adult language ahead, and this is a first draft, so expect some errors.. Hope you enjoy the first part of chapter 8!

When Madame Rag returned a few minutes later, Stirling had nearly finished his drink and his limbs were beginning to feel pleasantly loose. Rag raised an eyebrow at the pink paper umbrella he’d tucked behind one ear and his near-empty glass as she sat.

“Funny story,” Stirling said, once Rag had settled in, “While you were gone, I got a call. Some police in Podunk, Arkansas want to chat with me about an ex-customer of mine who got himself murdered. His name was William, good guy too. Some black-hearted villain came along, killed him, and the only thing they took was one of my hunting decoys.” He slurped his straw noisily around on the bottom of his glass. Rag’s eyelid twitched.

“I believe it is time for you to come to a decision, Mr Haig,” said Madame Rag, her smile brittle for the first time. “Will you learn to use your talents, or will they be wasted while you make wooden toys for men who like to kill ducks?”

“Do you know what the term, “Fruit of the poisonous tree,” means?” he asked her easily. Drink always made him chatty. She didn’t answer, but that didn’t matter. “It’s a moral argument that boils down to the idea that any benefits gained through immoral acts are themselves tainted,” he went on. “It’s why any testimony gained through torture is inadmissible in court. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not against a little constructive immorality from time to time, but wasting a guy just so you can get your hands on a wooden duck seems a bit much. Plus, I liked William, he was a good sort. If I agreed to learn magic from people who think that it’s just dandy to kill my friends, well I’d have to be some kind of world-class douche socket. So, to answer your question, no, I’m not joining up your fucked-up little club of psychos. Thanks for the drink, I’ll have my notebooks back, and be on my way with a festive, ‘go fuck yourself’.”

Stirling put words to action and stood, wrapping his scarf around his neck and shrugging into his jacket.

“If that is your decision, your notebooks are in my car. If you’ll accompany me to the parking lot we can go our separate ways.”

“Fan-tastic, you have no idea how much I’m looking forward to it.”

Stirling left a few bills on the table and followed Madame Rag outside into the rainy night.
Stirling glanced around and decided the chances that the woman was actually playing him straight would require exponents to calculate. The odds were, she didn’t have his notebooks at all and she was simply luring him to her car. Any chance at all was a chance he’d take.

He scanned the parking lot but saw nothing out of the ordinary. Rows of cars left a lot of places for someone to hide though. He shouldn’t have had that drink, his head was fuzzy, and right now he needed to be sharp. He could just feel that this just wasn’t going to end well. He pulled out his phone, shielding it from the rain as he pulled up a music app. Gloomy Sunday was already queued up and ready to go.  He didn’t press play yet but hummed the first bars as they made their way deeper into the lot.

 Concentrating through the alcohol made things more difficult than usual, but he was eventually able to clear his mind and drop a few of the usual barriers he habitually kept up. A cold more dense than the surrounding winter air began to slowly stream off his body.

A large blue Cadillac chirped and flashed at them as Rag pulled a fob from her pocket. It was a streamlined throwback to the land yachts of the seventies and eighties and looked like it would require a bank loan to fill the tank.

Rag went to the car and pulled a sturdy office box from the back seat and held it out to him. Stirling eyed her suspiciously.

“If Gwyneth Paltrow’s head is in there I’m going to be pissed,” he told her, trying to keep nervousness from his voice.

She didn’t answer, but stared at him, still smiling, her eyes flat and reptilian. Stirling took the box from her hands. He fumbled at the lid and peered inside. The sight of a neat stack of hardback black notebooks greeted him. He ran a finger over the worn cover of the topmost book, it was one of his, he knew it, he could feel it. He sighed and his knees almost buckled in relief.

If it wasn’t for the fact that the lot had been recently salted and sanded he probably would have been caught. As it was, the soft crunch of gravel on pavement only gave him a few seconds to react. He turned to find a man the size of some mining machinery quickly approaching through the rain from directly behind. Stirling didn’t need to think, he bolted.

The relief from seeing his notebooks had destroyed the calm mindset he’d cultivated on his way there. He tried to bring it back, but it kept slipping away. Staying calm in the quiet of the workshop was much different than doing it while half-buzzed and being chased by an enraged gorilla with the height of an NBA player.

He could hear the man gaining on him, every one of his strides was almost two of Stirling’s. There was no way he would be able to outrun him, running would only make him die tired, but it was his only option. Ahead of him the parking lot ahead ended with a grassy strip descending into a ditch before turning into a busy highway.

Somewhere off to the side an engine revved, tires squealed, and Stirling heard a tremendous crunch accompanied by a meaty thud of impact. The sound of pounding footsteps behind him faltered and he looked back over his shoulder. The man who had been chasing him was laid out on the wet asphalt with his upper body hidden under a white subcompact car.

The front wheel of the car was at spinning ineffectively in the air a good foot off the surface of the parking lot. The car had ridden up on the giant’s back and was held off the ground from the sheer thickness of the body under it.

The car shifted gears with a grinding noise and began rocking itself in an attempt to free itself from the muscular hump on which it was high-centered. Back and forth it went, back and forth, the man underneath bellowing like an enraged rhino. The front tire finally gained purchase on the man’s shoulder and the car dropped off, ripping away its plastic front bumper as it bounced back onto terra firma.

To Stirling’s amazement, the huge man, who mere seconds ago had a car on his back, only gave his head a shake before starting to sit up. The only injury Stirling could see was a black skid mark on his sloped, simian shoulder.

Instead of getting out to check on the man he’d hit, the driver of the car opened his door, revved the engine, and popped the clutch. The car’s tires spun again on the wet parking lot. “Think fast, Bone!” the driver shouted, giving the door a good shove on the way past.

The door slammed against the back of the man’s head with a healthy crunch, leaving an extra-large skull-sized dent in the panel. The giant’s head rocked forward and he howled in anger, taking an awkward swipe at the car as it zoomed past. Stirling heard the sound of tearing metal and saw the car rock on its wheels with the impact.

Behind him, he heard Madame Rag screech in rage and a second engine roared to life. Headlights lit the lot behind him as Madame Rag’s car reversed from her spot.

People began pouring out of the front door of Grey’s, no doubt attracted by the noise. The mangled white subcompact slowed as it approached Stirling, and the driver motioned frantically for him to get in. Stirling didn’t need to be convinced. He tucked his box of notebooks under one arm and ran to the passenger side. Of course, the door was locked. Stirling pounded on the window and the driver had to lean across to unlock it. It probably saved his life.

One of the women Stirling had seen from the party inside Grey’s had sprinted over to them unnoticed in the darkness. She reared up out of the night, cocked her arm back, and shattered the driver-side window with a punch that would have made The Terminator proud.

Stirling gaped at her. A ghost, nearly identical to herself, hovered at her side. Its ethereal face was pinched in pain, and looking at her, it wasn’t a mystery why. Chunks of her ghostly flesh had been savagely gouged out all over her body. Angry red light limned the wounds like neon gore. She glared at him through the rain, and with a movement that looked stiff and painful, flipped him off.
Stirling hopped into the passenger’s seat, ignoring the cubes of safety glass under his butt. The driver put his foot down and accelerated away through the parking lot.

Somehow, the woman maintained her grip on the door frame, one bloodied arm reached through the broken window to rake down the driver’s face. The driver yelped in pain and fumbled to unlatch his door. He kicked the door open sending the woman screeched as she swung out away from the car, the rough surface of the parking lot dragging at her shoes. She held onto the door tight with both arms, but as Stirling watched, the door hinge began to droop under her weight, leverage working against her.

“We’ll find you, Dimitri!” the woman hissed through the window. The car hit a speed bump at nearly fifty kilometres an hour and the woman lost her grip, cartwheeling away onto the wet parking lot like a gymnast going for suicide gold in the kamikaze Olympics.

Unfortunately, she wasn’t the only casualty. Stirling hadn’t yet been able to fasten his seatbelt and his butt came off the seat and his head slammed against the roof with a flash of pain. When he landed, the corner of the box of notebooks came down like the hammer of a vengeful god on his testicles. Every atom of breath left his lungs in a rush and he crumpled forward over his box.

They exited the parking lot, sliding sideways into traffic and accelerated away through the rainy night, the blare of horns behind them.

“I’m Dimitri,” the man provided, flashing him a grin. He had to raise his voice over the wind coming through the broken window and crooked door.

“Stirling,” he croaked back.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Chapter 7. Madame Rag

Warning: This chapter contains adult language and humour. If dirty words offend, please read no further.

Again, this is a first draft, so expect errors.  Feel free to comment below, and thanks for reading!

When he woke the following afternoon, Stirling started called contractors, only to find that even if they happened to be answering calls, nobody was available to rebuild his workshop until the New Year. It wasn’t surprising, just disappointing. The blue tarp he’d managed to fasten to the roof of his workshop wasn’t going to last long in the wind and rain of a west coast winter.

As he fed Magnon, he thought on what the faux Constable Queen had told him the night before. It wasn’t that he doubted her sincerity, that had been obvious. It was whether he could make himself take her advice. His long search had finally shown results, and the first thing that happened was that he was asked to stop.

Did Oppenheimer give up? Did Marie Curie give up? So what if he’d invented the Bomb, and it would be the another fifteen hundred years before anyone could safely handle her radioactive research papers. They’d been go-getters. Sure, some of their outcomes weren’t ideal, but you couldn’t fault their tenacity.

It was probably too late to back out at this point anyway. Another decoy had gone dark during the night, and he had the feeling it wouldn’t be long before he’d meet his secret admirers. If nothing else, the fifty thousand dollar shot he’d sent across their bow would hopefully generate some interest. He’d already updated their invoice to include a forty-nine thousand, five hundred dollar service fee for burning down his workshop. He’d added that in the “consumables” column. He was curious to see what the credit card company would say when they came across that little detail.
His phone jittered across the kitchen table playing the chorus of Aqua’s Barbie Girl while an unflattering picture of Rebbecca appeared on the screen.

“Haig Pest Control,” he said into the phone, “busting fleas knees since two thousand twelve, Stirling speaking.”

Rebbecca sighed on the other end of the line. “Afternoon Stirling,” she said.

“Hey, it’s my employee of the month! How’s it going?”

“Those people from the fake warehouse job yesterday want to talk.”

“They do?”

“Yeah, some chick that sounds like Mary Poppins has a massive ladyboner to get in touch with you.”

“Mary Poppins with a ladyboner? It’s like you’re reading directly from my browser history.”

“Before you get too caught up in an all-afternoon session of English Nanny porn, she wants you guys to meet.”


“She says she’ll be at Grey’s on Lougheed at five, and that we can keep the fifty thousand if you meet with her!”

“Isn’t she just an eager little beaver.”

“I know, right? Who would pay fifty thousand dollars to meet with you?”

“Maybe she Googled me and just couldn’t help herself.”

“Only in your dreams creep. She also told me to tell you that she has your notebooks, whatever that means. My work here is done. I’m charging you my minimum plus double time for this.”

“You got it, hey since you’re on the clock, check the email and order more of those Dr Evil rubber gloves. Thanks, Bex,” he said and quickly hung up.


An hour and a half later, Stirling walked into Grey’s; a moderately upscale eatery a couple blocks south of Hastings known for its goldfish bowl-sized margaritas and the young women that such drinks tended to attract.

He glanced around, unzipping his jacket and loosening his scarf. The place was fully decked out in shiny Christmas decorations and it was hopping. Nearly all the tables were full, and it looked like a company Christmas party was just hitting its stride in the far corner. With all the noise, Stirling wondered how he would be expected to conduct a clandestine supernatural meeting without shouting.

Stirling felt a familiar tightness behind his eyes and made a second survey of the restaurant. He hadn’t noticed them at first, but there were a number of ghosts clustered around the party table. Ghosts didn’t cluster, and they were almost never found in newer buildings. Grey’s had only moved into the complex five years ago, and ghosts usually faded out when their haunt was destroyed or changed too much. A minor renovation was usually enough to clear out all but the most stubborn spooks. These ones shouldn’t be here.

He was interrupted from his thoughts when a smiling waitress standing behind the front server station asked, “Stirling Haig?” When he nodded, she led him to a long rectangular room with a matching long rectangular table made of dark wood in the back of the restaurant.

The room could have easily seated twenty with elbow room leftover. A gas fireplace on one wall gave the room a welcome feeling, while the Christmas decorations and instrumental Christmas music piped in set a festive mood.

A petite woman sitting at the table rose as he entered. She barely came up to his chin and wore the unremarkable camouflage of a business casual skirt suit. Her smiling face, framed by long blond hair, looked like all the fat had been boiled off of it. It was the smile that caught Stirling’s attention the most though, hers was the unconvincing smile of a porn starlet flung into a Shakespearian drama and suddenly expected to deliver something more sophisticated than, “harder!!” or “do me, baby!!”
She held out her hand, “Welcome, Stirling.” She had a high-pitched, almost girlish voice with a BBC announcer’s clipped English accent. “I am Madame Rag.”

Stirling felt a mild pang of sympathy. His own high school experiences were scarring enough, having a name like “Rag” would absolutely guarantee this woman a spot in the Our Lady of Headgear Resthome for the Terminally Uncool.

He took her hand and shook. “Are you the fortune teller type of madame, or more like the Heidi Fleiss humpy kind?” he asked, making rocking motions with his hips for effect. The waitress made a choking noise and dropped off a pair of menus before beating a hasty retreat.
“Neither, Mr Haig, it’s the one where a title is given to someone of worth and distinction.”

Rag had a strong grip, and as they shook, Stirling caught a whiff of something that brought back sense memories of dissecting cow eyeballs in his grade eight science class. A phantom of formaldehyde, the slightest top-note of decay, with just a ghost of Isopropyl alcohol.
Madame Rag sat herself while Stirling hung his jacket on the back of his chair. His cell phone buzzed faintly in his pocket, he ignored it.

“I’d like first to apologize. We sent one of our people to your home yesterday with an invitation to meet, and it seems he may have inadvertently caused some property damage. We will, of course, reimburse you for any costs.”

“Already on it,” said Stirling, grinning. “What I’d really like is for you to return the things that were stolen from my workshop.”

"Saved, actually,” she demurred. “When the blaze began, our man removed what he could to save it from the flames.”

“So, let me see if I understand this. One of your guys came to my house, accidentally ripped off my workshop door, mistakenly burned down my workshop, then unintentionally took my shit without even leaving a note? Is that what about the size of it?”

“It was a most unfortunate series of events. We only wished to contact you to make you an offer. You see, until recently we were unaware of your abilities.”

“I noticed,” he said. “It’s nice to be appreciated, but you guys seem to be going a bit overboard with the ducks. What is that, five now?”

 Rag didn’t even try and look confused. “We recognize talent when it’s brought to our attention, and you are a most remarkable young man. My employer is interested in giving you the tools to become even more formidable.”

“I get by just fine with my formidable tool just the way it is, thanks,” he waggled his eyebrows at her Groucho Marx style. Madame Rag leaned back with a look like she’d just smelled something unpleasant, which was exactly the point. “But listen, I’ve got a dilemma here,” Stirling continued, “as much as I’d like to sign on with you, I really don’t like the way you people do business. Breaking and entering, arson, and theft, while oftentimes fun, aren’t the best ways to make a great first impression. Your job right now is to convince me that you aren’t the frothing douche jockeys that you’ve actions are screaming that you are.”

Rag’s smile stayed in place, but Stirling could see some serious definition in her jaw muscles. She was clearly falling for his boyish charms. The waitress arrived and took their drink order, momentarily breaking the tension.

Rag looked at him intently, still smiling. “We know you have been looking for people like us for a long time. We can teach you things beyond anything you have been able to imagine. That you have managed to train yourself even the tiniest bit of magic is impressive, but we are part of a culture that has been studying and working with magic for thousands of years. We are the gatekeepers to knowledge and power. Regardless of what you believe we may have done, are you willing to throw away your one chance to learn, to be more than you currently are?”

Stirling didn’t have much to say to that. She was absolutely right, even with what they had done, could he afford to let this opportunity go? They might be his only chance to get full control of his magic and lead a normal life. Her hard eyes searched his. “I’ll let you consider that. If you’ll excuse me, I need to powder my nose.” She rose and left the room.

Self respect and integrity were important, but in Sterling’s experience, pragmatism also had its place. He pondered this as he reached for his phone to see who called. As his hand closed on his phone, it buzzed again, it was Rebbecca.”

“Haig Pest control,” he said, “You got the rats, we got the bats, Stirling speaking.”

“Where are you?” Came Rebbecca’s worried voice.

“Just kicking back here at Greys.”

“And what about Marry Poppins?”

“She went off to powder her ass, why what’s going on”

“You know how you sent out that group email to your duck mailing list?”

“Yeah, so?”

“Well, I was checking your email, like you asked, and the cops replied! One of your customers from somewhere down in Asscrack Arkansas was robbed and murdered, the only thing that the murderer took was one of those stupid ducks you make! The police want to talk to you about it.”

“Holy shit, William?!”

“Yeah, that was the name of the dead guy! What the hell is going on with your ducks?”

“I have no goddamn clue.”

“Do you want me to call the police? Marry Poppins might be packing more than an umbrella, if you know what I mean.”

“I hope you don’t mean what I think you mean, because I’ll not have you casting shade on our transgender friends. They have a hard enough time as it is.”

There was a beat of silence on the phone while Rebbecca presumably tried to figure out what he’d implied. “I’m talking about a gun! A gun, you epic fuckwit!”

“Oh, well, that’s alright then. Don’t worry about it, I’ve got things under control here, besides, it’s Canada, we’re too polite for guns. If we need to fuck someone up, we’ll just produce another Celine Dion or Justin Bieber. The best part is, they don’t even know they’ve being fucked with.”

“Well, be careful, alright? You’re weird and a jerk, but deep down you’re a decent guy, I’d hate to have to start looking for a new job around Christmas.”

“Aww, thanks Rebs, that means a lot.”

“Don’t call me…!”

Stirling hung up and the server arrived with their drinks, a gin and tonic for Madame Rag and a goldfish bowl of neon-green margarita for him. He swirled the limy alcoholic slush around with a straw. It was the sound, he decided, of the plot thickening.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Chapter 6 Queen of the Rails

Chapter 6
Queen of the Rails

Warning: This chapter contains adult language and humour. If dirty words offend, please read no further.

Again, this is a first draft, so expect errors.  Feel free to comment below, and thanks for reading!

Crackling blue electric arcs leapt from the centre rail to Aleph’s bare feet as she sprinted west along the elevated track, the flickering light from below bathing her face in faint ghost light as she ran. Energy hummed in the centre rail like a disturbed beehive and coursed up into her legs. She’d be awake for the rest of the night after this little jaunt, the electricity giving her the equivalent buzz she'd get from slamming a quadruple espresso. It was worth it.

Running the tracks was one of her favourite ways to get around the city. High on the concrete guideways, she was hidden from most prying eyes, and at this time of night, the trains would still be down for another four hours, meaning she could run as fast as she wanted.

She’d changed out of her uniform once she’d left her interview with Stirling Haig and now wore her usual jeans and leather jacket. The cold wind of her passage snapped her scarf and braid out behind her as she ran parallel to Lougheed Highway, easily overtaking traffic as she moved deeper toward Vancouver.

The interview earlier that night had been an eye-opener. She’d been told Haig was intelligent, but she hadn’t expected him to see through the disguise. While it was true she was technically a cop, the uniform had been mainly a prop to put him in the right frame of mind. Nine times out of ten, when people saw a uniform the only things on their mind was if that baggie of pot hey had in the freezer was hidden well enough, and what was the quickest way they could get rid of you. What they didn’t think of was knocking holes in your cover story based on how you wore your hair.

Even odder was how he claimed he needed to concentrate in order to contain his Algere. If he was telling the truth about that, and she had no reason to think otherwise, she truly felt for him. The effect Algere had on people was probably the one thing that made his kind so disliked.

When she’d first heard his story, she’d almost spilled everything right then out of sympathy, her promise to Penhold be damned. Haig’s cover was already blown, and it wasn’t like she honestly believed that Knox would give up on him if he took her advice and ran. The only thing that held her back was that becoming a Sponsor right now would have been impossible, on top of the fact that he probably wouldn’t survive the next few days, she didn’t have the time. Three more people in the community had been reported missing earlier that day, bringing the total up to fifty-seven since the end of summer.

In a rare stroke of luck, she’d actually managed to track down one of the missing people, a technomancer who went by Dimitri Singh. Unlike the others before him, he’d somehow seen the trap closing around him, and been clever and wise enough to go to ground. His only misstep had been a furtive errand during daylight hours through the streets of Richmond. Showing his face outside was mistake enough for one of her children to spot him and report on his location.

When she’d confronted him, the webmage had confirmed what she was already certain of; Rag and Bone had been stalking him and were the ones responsible for the disappearances. It seemed he’d been running his own surveillance on the pair, which he happily showed to her. The data he’d collected from the thousands of cell phones and tablets he’d infected with thaumotech malware were completely illegal, unethical, and absolutely non-admissible in a court of law. For all that they were astonishingly detailed and accurate.

It didn’t take a mental titan to connect the dots from Rag and Bone to Knox of the White. It was an open secret that Knox had employed the husband and wife duo off and on for centuries, but without iron-clad evidence of Knox’s involvement, Dimitri’s story would be about as practical as a chocolate chastity belt.

The Alchemist Guild employed an army of lawyers on retainer who would defend Knox to the bitter end, after which they would blacklist everyone involved in bringing unsuccessful charges against one of their own. It was how The Guild worked, and it was why there were so few people willing to be witnesses in any case against an alchemist.

Admissible or not, Dimitri’s tale, combined with the assassination of Elanor of the Red the night before, was ample evidence pointing toward Knox being at the centre of something big.
A spray of fine mist rose from the tracks behind her as she blurred through the night and made her way toward the nearest gate to Asphodel in Victory Square. It was past time for a face-to-face with Penhold, with an entire city to cover even a goddess could get spread thin.

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